Thursday, June 23

Political events today

Tony Blair has called for an "open and frank" exchange of ideas on the future of the European Union.
In a keynote speech to the European parliament this morning, the prime minister set out his agenda for a "modern social policy". The PM denied Britain wanted to reduce the EU to a free trade zone. He called for a "modern budget for Europe" that reduced spending on the common agricultural policy. "Europe is in the midst of a profound debate about its future," Blair said. But he added that "in every crisis there is an opportunity". "I believe in Europe as a political project... I would never accept a Europe that was simply an economic market," he said. "Of course we need a social Europe, but it has to be a social Europe that works."
There was no mention of the projects that it was indented to be endorsed by the EU constitution which are being implemented by the EU in any event.

The delayed general election ballot for the South Staffordshire constituency takes place, having been postponed from 5 May due to the death during the campaign of Liberal Democrat candidate Jo Harrison. Conservative candidate Sir Patrick Cormack is defending a majority of 6,881. His opponents are Joanne Crotty (Lib Dem), Paul Kalinauckas (Lab), Malcolm Hurst (UKIP), Kate Spohrer (Greens), Adrian Davies (Freedom Party), Garry Bushell (English Democrats) and Rev David Braid (Christian Democrats).

New statistics on the MRSA superbug show there were 7,212 cases in 2004/05, a fall of 6.1 per cent on 2003/04. However, 68 out of 173 NHS trusts saw infection rates rise despite government efforts to tackle the problem. Seasonal factors were blamed for a 164 rise in the number of cases between April-September 2004 and October-March. Health minister Jane Kennedy said there had been progress but "much more work needs to be done". "Everyone can contribute to reducing healthcare-associated infections and therefore it is everyone's business," she said. "It is not the responsibility of the infection control team alone." Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said government initiatives "do not represent across the board action to support infection control procedures". For the Liberal Democrats, Steve Webb called for a "sustained evidence-based approach to tackling the problems".

The result of the Scottish Liberal Democrats leadership election is announced. The successful candidate - either health spokesman Mike Rumbles or transport minister Nicol Stephen - automatically becomes deputy first minister of Scotland.

Jack Straw hosts a meeting of G8 foreign ministers in London. The ministers will seek to prepare the ground ahead of the Gleneagles summit. Iran, the Middle East peace process and Afghanistan are among the issues on the agenda.

In the wake of yesterday's tax credits row, Gordon Brown has said that overpayments will not be reclaimed if the government is at fault. "We're trying to deal with some of the overpayments," the chancellor told GMTV. "Where there's been a mistake by the Inland Revenue and where we are to blame as a government then we will not take the overpayment. Where there is hardship and where there is a disputed claim we will not deduct the money until that is sorted out."

A major shake-up of primary care which will make GP surgeries more flexible and patient friendly will be outlined today by health secretary Patricia Hewitt. The changes could include specialist GP surgeries for teenagers and family doctors being given greater autonomy to order diagnostic scans rather than having to refer to a hospital. People could also register with GPs near their workplace rather than their home as a better reflection of modern lifestyles. Speaking to an Opinion Leader Research conference on effective public engagement, Hewitt will also suggest that public involvement in health services can help to counter the decline in trust in modern politics.

Education secretary Ruth Kelly and TUC general secretary Brendan Barber speak at the CBI 'people's summit' in London.

Home Office minister Hazel Blears and Labour MP Tony Wright speak at the annual conference of the Centre for Public Scrutiny.

Housing minister Yvette Cooper speaks at the Chartered Institute of Housing conference in Harrogate.

Work minister Margaret Hodge speaks at a Crisis event to mark the launch of a book about helping homeless people back into work.

John Redwood has said that the chancellor's Mansion House speech last night showed that eurosceptics are winning the argument on the future of the EU. The shadow cabinet member said he was delighted ministers "now think they have to say that much of the European integration agenda is both unpopular and backward-looking, that it can't possibly work, that it will make people less prosperous and less free". "It is no good just being eurosceptic in your rhetoric if you are about to run the presidency of the European Union. What we need from our government is a government well prepared, determined to win certain arguments and make changes that are going to work," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Labour MP John Denham is among the speakers at a ESRC/Hansard Society event on identity, political engagement and civic activism in modern Britain.

Minister for disabled people Anne McGuire, Labour MP Roger Berry MP and Bob Niven, chief executive of the Disability Rights Commission, are among the speakers at a reception for the all party parliamentary disability group being hosted by Lord Ashley.

Rod Aldridge, chairman of the CBI's public services strategy board, today challenges the public, private and voluntary sectors to be more radical in putting consumers at the centre of public service reform and delivery. "Too many public services seem to exist and to operate for the benefit of the provider interest and the institutional framework of the public sector," he will say. "The public will not continue to support taxation and public expenditure levels for services that do not address their needs, continually improve and offer value for money."

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, has urged the government to abandon plans to transfer millions of records of births, marriages, and deaths from the UK to India. "These are important records charting the births, deaths and marriages of this country's population which should be maintained securely in the UK public sector by people accountable to us all," he said.

The TUC today calls on the government to make good its earlier commitment to push for an agreement on the EU temporary agency workers directive. General secretary Brendan Barber said: "The temp trade should not be about getting workers on the cheap, holding them back from quality permanent jobs and throwing them on the scrap heap when employers and agencies are done with them."

Unison's annual conference continues in Glasgow, with debates on the EU constitution, Iraq and the Make Poverty History campaign.

Privacy International announces the winners of its annual UK Big Brother Awards, which "recognise the people and organisations that have done the most to devastate privacy and civil liberties". Categories cover worst public servant (nominees are Martin Linton, Richard Granger and Michael Howard), most invasive company (New Labour, Intellect), most appalling project (road charging, iris recognition, e-borders), most heinous government organisation (Council of the European Union, UK Passport Service, Land Registry) and lifetime menace (Data Protection Act, Tony Blair, Capita, European Union).

At an event hosted by the Adam smith Institute, Dr Michael Goldsmith and Professor David Gladstone discuss their plans to reform the NHS.

CBI director general Sir Digby Jones addresses the business group's annual summer banquet in Birmingham.
Finaly, a 16,000 sell-out crowed will be at the County Durham Riverside cricket in Chester-le-Street ground today to see England play Australia.
Reaction on all this tomorrow.

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